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Denzil Wraight

(Fr. archiquier, eschaquier, eschiquier; Ger. Schachtbrett; Lat. scacarum, scacatorum; Sp. eschaquer, scaquer)

The earliest term used in archives and other writings to denote a string keyboard instrument. Its exact meaning is still the subject of debate and research, but it is probable that most references are to a clavichord. There appears to be no Italian equivalent of the name; Farmer suggested that it is derived from the Arabic ‘al-shaqira’ and tentatively identified this as a virginal, but there is no supporting evidence. Some writers identified the chekker as an upright harpsichord (i.e. a Clavicytherium), since a letter written to Juan I of Aragon in 1388 referred to ‘an instrument seeming like organs, that sounds with strings’, but the instrument was not named. Galpin (Grove4, suppl.) believed that the Dulce melos described by Arnaut de Zwolle (c1440) was identical with the chekker. However, instruments with hammer action, such as the dulce melos, appear to have been rare, whereas the name ‘chekker’ appears frequently, and there is no evidence to support this identification. Galpin further suggested that the chekker’s name was derived from the fact that the action was ‘checked’, in the sense that the motion of its keys was stopped by a fixed rail; this is unconvincing and could in any case apply to a clavichord, a harpsichord or a virginal. These suggestions can therefore be disregarded....


Howard Mayer Brown


Although it now has only the general meaning of ‘musical instrument’, the word ‘Instrument’ in German used to have the more specific meaning of ‘keyboard instrument’. To judge from the title-pages of late 16th-century German keyboard anthologies by Elias Nikolaus Ammerbach (1571, 1575 and 1583), Bernhard Schmid (1577) and others, ‘Instrument’ then meant ‘string keyboard instrument’ in opposition to organ; the volumes are said to be written in a tablature for ‘Orgel und Instrument’. This interpretation was confirmed by Praetorius, who wrote in Syntagma musicum, ii (2/1619), chap.37, that the Symphony – his collective name for harpsichord or clavicymbalum, virginal, spinet and the like – was generally called ‘Instrument’, a usage he criticized for its ambiguity. Like many other musical terms, however, the word meant various things at various times, and it was not always used consistently. In the 17th and 18th centuries, for example, ‘Instrument’ sometimes referred specifically to the clavichord. At least that conclusion seems warranted from the reference to ‘Instrument, Spinet oder Clavicymbel’ on the title-page of Benedict Schultheiss’s ...


Edwin M. Ripin

revised by John Barnes

(Ger. Pedalklavichord, Pedalclavier)

A clavichord equipped with a pedal-board like that of an organ. Instruments of this type are mentioned by Paulus Paulirinus of Prague (c 1460) and Virdung (Musica getutscht, 1511), and a 15th-century drawing shows a clavichord with a two-and-a-half-octave compass B to ƒ″, with a 12-note pedal-board B to b (with b♭ omitted, perhaps in error) beneath it. Such instruments were primarily used for practice purposes by organists, and this function is specifically cited by Paulirinus. Most of them presumably had pull-down pedals directly connected by cords to the bass notes of an ordinary clavichord, but Adlung (Musica mechanica organoedi, 1768) noted that such a system presents problems because the pedal keys must be more widely spaced than the manual and, accordingly, the cords must slant and therefore tend to drag the keys sideways as they are pulled down. This problem could be obviated by the use of a rollerboard, which, however, was noisy and vastly increased the cost of the instrument. A better system was to provide a completely separate instrument to be sounded by the pedal keys; this was set underneath an ordinary clavichord and could be strung with sub-octave as well as unison strings, thereby better approximating the resources of the pedal division of an organ....



Nicolas Meeùs

(Fr. octave courte; Ger. kurze Oktave)

A term to denote the tuning of some of the lowest notes of keyboard instruments to pitches below their apparent ones. The practice was employed from the 16th century to the early 19th to extend the keyboard compass downwards without increasing the overall dimensions of the instrument.

The short octave was not described in theoretical writings before the 1550s; the alleged description of it in Ramos's Musica practica (1482) results from a misinterpretation. However, the system originated earlier in stringed keyboard instruments. It was basically a variable tuning adapted to the requirements of individual pieces, comparable to the Scordatura of string instruments. It was first applied to keyboards showing F as the lowest key; the F♯ and G♯ keys, if present, were tuned to sound lower notes, usually C, D or E. By the middle of the 16th century an apparent E was added as the lowest key, but it was often tuned to a lower pitch. This soon resulted in the standard tuning known today as the ‘...


Peter Williams

revised by Martin Renshaw

Term currently used by organ theorists to denote a list of the speaking stops, accessories and compass of an organ. To a builder, however, ‘specification’ would include technical information on the bellows, action, pressure, chests, case, façade, placement etc., as well as the pipes and stops. The term was used by Hopkins (Hopkins and Rimbault, The Organ, 1855) as an occasional alternative to such phrases as ‘a list of the contents’ or ‘the distribution of stops’. Previous English writers used only such phrases as ‘list of stops’ (J.A. Hamilton: Catechism of the Organ, London, 1842), ‘Catalogue of the Stops’ (Burney), ‘Schedule’ (Father Smith at the Temple Church, 1688), and ‘The Name and number of the stoppes’ (Dallam’s contract at York, 1632).

The term ‘disposition’ (see Disposition), which is sometimes used synonymously with ‘specification’, properly refers to the arrangement of different stops among the keyboards or divisions of a harpsichord or organ, whereas ...